Things I Never Learned in Library School: The Best Made Plans . . . Still Sometimes Fail
On paper, it’s the perfect program.
An afternoon spent making as we help teens learn various tasks they may need to participate in cosplay? Sounds like a great idea. It was an idea sparked by a comment made by a presenter at ALA in 2016. And we ran with it because 1) we have an awesome Teen MakerSpace and 2) we have on staff a pretty spectacular cosplayer. We called in the Con Con, the convention to help teens learn about and get ready for conventions. Con Con wasn’t just a fun program idea, it’s fun to say.
So we started to plan. We experimented with ideas, spacing, layouts, staffing and budgets. The ideas were not a problem, but space, staffing and budgets really were. I developed a program planning worksheet to help us plan this program. A lot of time, thought and energy went in to investigating how we might be able to make our program idea a reality. As you can see, we even made flyers promoting our event, although they never were made public because we didn’t promote the event. We postponed it – not once, but twice. Then we cancelled it. Now we’re working on modifying it in ways that work realistically for our library.
Obstacle #1: Staffing
Our Teen MakerSpace is staffed by 2 part-time people, both of whom are both excellent with teens and enthusiastic about our cosplay con idea. But pulling them out of the Teen MakerSpace to do a program of this magnitude would leave the space unstaffed on another day and time, and this would be a problem for both our regular teen users and the circulation staff. The circulation staff is right across from our Teen MakerSpace and when the TMS is left unstaffed, which it sometimes is when an emergency or illness comes up, there is an increased burden on circulation staff who are left answering teen complaints about the TMS and dealing with the behavior issues of bored teens who came to the library to use the TMS only to find that it isn’t available on this day.
In addition, doing a program of this magnitude would require more than the 3 staff we have available to us. We were looking at sessions and stations and more. It’s a pretty big program idea to pull off with a small amount of staff.
Obstacle #2: Money
But staffing wasn’t our only issue, space and money were issues as well. Having a program of this magnitude would have ended up using a large portion of our yearly budget in one pop. This meant that we may have been forced to forgo important TMS supplies later in the year. And as I have mentioned before, our TMS is popular and well trafficked, I would hate to find ourselves without the supplies we needed later in the year because we spent all of our financial resources on one big program.
Obstacle #3: Space
And then there is the issue of space. If you have attended any conference or convention of any kind, you know that space is a huge issue. If we wanted to have multiple sessions for people to choose from, we needed multiple locations. We are a small library with one decent size meeting room. The demand for this space, both internally and from the public, is high, so finding a day and time that is available is already a challenge – that’s how we landed on a Sunday. We could have, in theory, also used our small genealogy room to host a class, but we know that we have many out of town visitors who come to use these resources, so if they happened to show up on that day then our plan would be a bust.
We discussed the pros and cons of having the program after hours vs. during normal operating hours so that we could have more space, but then we came back around to staffing. Each concern looped back into another concern. If we had the program after hours, we would need more additional staff but couldn’t afford to pull the additional staff off of the normal operating schedule.
The Value of Questions, Instinct and Experience
We postponed the program twice as we felt uneasy about some of the kinks we kept spotting in our plan. In the end, we decided that the negatives far outweighed the positives for our library at this time and we decided to scrap our plan for a large, one day con. Although it’s a great program, it’s not the right program for a library our size with a staff and budget our size at this time. I think all parts of that sentence are important – it wasn’t the right plan for OUR LIBRARY at THIS TIME.
Failure is Not Always Failure
But it’s not all a failure.
We are now working on adapting the sessions to fit into our TMS program model. You see, we rotate themes and ideas in our Teen MakerSpace. In April, for example, we will be celebrating National Poetry Month by hosting a variety of poetry related activities. We will be hosting Star Wars STEM activities the week of May the 4th. As part of our TSRC, we will be having Mod-A-Tee Mondays (I’ll be sharing more about that with you soon). This allows us to have drop-in programs that teens can come to at their convenience as opposed to ours and keeps our TMS new, fresh, and invigorating. So we’re breaking the Con Con sessions into modules for the month of October. October seems like a good time to learn some cosplay skills. This IS the right plan for OUR LIBRARY at THIS TIME.
We have a program model that is currently working well for us. It works for our library staffing, space, size and budgets. It’s working for our teens. It’s working for our community. It’s working for a small library with one public meeting/library program room with high demand. It just works, so instead of fighting against it we are embracing it. We took a step back, evaluated where we are at right now, and made what we feel is the best decision given all of the data we possess.
This is not the first time I have had a program idea fall through, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But it is a reminder to myself that planning is essential, and that even the best made plans sometimes fall through. I’m glad we listened to our gut about our concerns and pulled the plug and re-evaluated before we had an epic public failure (though yes, I’ve had those as well). We planned and we couldn’t make our original plan work, but that’s okay because we’re working on making a plan that works better for us. That means we’re good at our jobs.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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